I warn you now I’m full up to the brim with cold so if this hardly makes sense I’ll blame it not on the boogie but on the snot. Snot, wonderful snot. The gloopy stuff that emits from every orifice when you’re not paying attention.
Last night I sat on a panel alongside Steve Thompson, Ashley Scott-Layton and Charlotte Allum to answer questions from eager students about writing as a career. It was a pleasure to be asked to do it (and paid) and really interesting for the four of us to divulge in our personal approaches to writing. With four writers in different stages in their careers it gave the students an insight into how much hard work it can be and how things take time. The questions were varied but really well thought out and apparently it’s one of the most interesting panels they’ve run (they do panels with actors and directors too). Personally it was exciting to sit and talk about writing and give feedback which is something I revel in.
I’m at a point in my career where I’ve only recently made that pivotal acknowledgement that I do want to write so felt that by telling people how I’ve got here so far would be beneficial. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not signed to an agent or have a commission with money to follow but I’m steadily moving in the right circles and building up contacts. I’m forever chasing opportunities whether they be for stage, screen or the page. And this is something that I feel is important. One of the questions that was asked to the panel last night was, “Do you need qualifications to be a writer?” We all answered with a resounding no. We all felt that by reading scripts, frequenting the theatre, watching films (whatever your choice of medium) that warranted you a qualification. You yourself will know that you have a story to tell and you didn’t necessarily need to wait for someone to award you a shiny badge and knight you a ‘writer’.
I made a point about being a writer and not acting like one. It’s not all chain-smoking and neat whiskey and the blinds pulled down low. It’s the simple fact that you need to get off your arse and actually do it. There’s no point saying “I’ve got this really great idea” and then not acting on it. You’re kidding yourself. There are a plethora of opportunities out there whether they be from getting published online to getting a rehearsed reading in a theatre above a pub. You’re in it for the craft and you’d be extremely naive to think that you get that major leg up from writing one thing. No one escapes the womb, puts pen to paper and then lives a life of luxury off a healthy cheque. No, they decide they like writing and keep doing it. Do it some more, send stuff off, get some rejections, do some more writing, learn the important technique of re-writing then repeat.
Another questions was, “Have you always wanted to be a writer?” I went to a tiny primary school (which I still live behind) and we had 60 odd kids crammed to one classroom. It was very much the case of if you’re not good at something go and concentrate on something you are good at. For me I suck royally at maths, science, history .etc. I excelled in English and art. So much so that I used to fill exercise book after exercise book with stories. My work was read out aloud by the teacher as the afternoon stories with the whole class sitting on the floor listening avidly. I was more than often doing art the other side of the room because it was slightly embarrassing but made me giddy with excitement at the same time. The only story I can vaguely remember writing from back then was a version of Romeo and Juliet where it was set in a hairdressers (Romeo had caused Tybalt to go bald, the onslaught ensued). It’s something I’ve always wanted to do because I knew I could do it and do it well. There’s also another memory I have of racing into my brothers room where everyone seemed to be and announcing proudly that I could spell ‘holiday’ by myself with no help whatsoever. I was very young at the time and way advanced for my years. One brother, possibly James, scoffed and said something along the lines of, “whoopsefuckingdo” to which my other brother Mark retaliated with, “bet you can’t spell it”. Ahhhh my brothers, how I love them. I have my teacher, Mrs Wade, to thank for pushing me on and proving to me that I could do whatever I wish. To this day I try and track her down. She had so much faith in me she sent me on writing courses when I was ten and made me read Lord Of The Flies when I was eleven. I want to meet her to tell her what I’ve done so far. (Unfortunately that’s not her in the photo above, but it was me at that school and I thankfully look a bit different now.)
Somewhere along the way the idea of being a writer has been romanticised. This allows people to think they can moan that they’re not getting recognised. If you’re not getting recognised it’s because you’re either not sending out your best work or you’re not sending it out enough. There are so many avenues to explore such as online blogs, self-publishing, zines, writers’ groups, schemes, programmes, scholarships, bursaries… The list goes on. In the past year alone I’ve grown from strength to strength as a writer where at times when I’m having a low day I can stop and look back at what I’ve achieved so far. For some people they may look at my track record and scoff at the fact that I’ve not had a production on the stage or a film made. I simply tell them to fuck off. The chances are they haven’t done half the stuff you have and have the tunnel-vision that only people that have had a run in a well-known theatre are worthy. Because on the flipside the people that are further along the career path than you will be the ones congratulating you on how far you’ve come and offering advice on what to do next. Those are called writers, the former are called bumptious time-wasters.